Over the course of the next month, Konopkaesque will review each player who suited up for the Wild this season, with a few exceptions. 1) They had to play at least ten games during the season and/or playoffs (sorry, Brett Bulmer, Carson McMillan and John Curry) and 2) they had to finish the season as part of the organization, which ironically excludes the man for whom this blog is named, among others.
So, without further blathering, here’s today’s subject:
Jason Zucker, LW, Age 22
Remaining contract (per capgeek): RFA in 2014
What Did He Do?: Zucker’s season was bookended by different types of disappointment. First, he was the odd-man out when the the Wild concluded training camp and had to start the season in Iowa, which he was clearly not happy about. He spent the 2013 portion of the season on the yo-yo, bouncing back and forth between the NHL and AHL, and produced very little in the NHL as he struggled to stay in the lineup. He emerged as a regular only in the month of January, and scored all four of his goals in that month, helping the Wild emerge from he December doldrums in the process. He never played after the Olympic break, and it was eventually announced that knee surgery would finish his season.
What to Expect if You’re Expecting: Zucker is another divisive figure, it seems. Those who love him point to his speed, gritty forechecking and natural goal-scoring ability, and the anti-Zucker crowd points to his lack of defensive presence. In reality, both are correct, but it is the latter that really kept him out of the lineup to start the season, and he will have to be a much more consistent two-way presence to ever become a true regular in the NHL linueup. In addition, though he does have offensive gifts, he still hasn’t put them to good use through 47 games over now three partial NHL seasons. His career totals look like this: 47 games, 8 goals, and 5 assists. Those aren’t t0p-six forward numbers by any means, and the aforementioned inconsistent backchecking makes him a liability on a third or fourth line.
Zucker can certainly have a place on the team, especially with the likely departure of Dany Heatley and the possible movement of players like Cody McCormick and Matt Moulson. Of course, obstacles could arrive in terms of new free agents, but perhaps Zucker’s biggest obstacle remains his own play. Stay tuned.
Trade Prospects?: Zucker is the first player I’ve reviewed so far whom I could honestly see being prime trade bait this summer. Despite coming off of an injury, he has too many qualities which might intrigue other franchises. He’s young, he has speed and offensive potential, and for the immediate future, he’ll be a cheap option. Of course, those are all reasonable reasons to keep him around as well, despite the fact that he seems to have been passed up by the current group of young players (Granlund, Niederreiter, Coyle, Haula and Fontaine) in terms of organizational importance. It’s a long drop for a player who scored the most important goal of the 2012-13 season, but if he can fall that far in one season, he can certainly rise again in 2014-15. For that reason alone I refuse to say he’s definitely a goner, but don’t be surprised if that type of talk heats up over the summer, especially if the Wild make a move to bring in top-six talent in free agency.
Season Highlight: Of Zucker’s four January goals, his last was certainly the prettiest, as he went tic-tac-toe off of a face-off with Charlie Coyle and Dany Heatley against Edmonton on January 16th. It was also record setting, establishing a mark for the fastest goal ever to start a period by a Minnesota player.